Homeless shelter crisis declared in El Dorado County
El Dorado County has declared a shelter crisis as a new strategy to address homelessness on the West Slope.
Health and Human Services Agency staff last week presented to the Board of Supervisors a way to quickly provide beds for unsheltered residents and potential locations for short-term congregate and non-congregate shelters and a navigation center.
The Board of Supervisors directed staff to look into short-term congregate options at a Perks Court property, owned by the county, and short-term non-congregate shelters at 1970 and 1940 Broadway — the Gold Trail Motor Lodge and Motherlode Lodge.
The board also directed staff to look into 471 Pierroz Road as a potential navigation center. All properties under consideration are in Placerville.
Daniel Del Monte, Health and Human Services deputy director, told supervisors the Broadway motels would be the fastest to begin operation since rooms are available.
“They can be occupied with residents within 60 days, assuming a lease can be negotiated in that timeframe,” Del Monte said.
The county could negotiate a lease-to-buy option if it wanted to buy the properties for long-term purposes, Del Monte added.
The Perks Court property is across the street from the soon-to-be-completed new El Dorado Community Health Center, is in proximity to transit, supermarkets and the nearby bike path leads to the Health and Human Services offices.
Assembly Bill 2553, which passed in 2020, will make it easier for the county to declare a shelter crisis “if the governing body makes a specific finding” related to a shortage of shelter beds, Del Monte said, adding that this will also help the county to get a navigation center to be operational before fall 2022.
“If the county does not declare a crisis, it will be a much lengthier process to get this going, around 12 to 18 months,” Del Monte told the board.
Declaring a shelter crisis means county homeless shelter regulations consistent with the county General Plan and local land use plans are suspended during the duration of a crisis.
The crisis declaration also suspends other state and local housing, health, planning and safety regulations as well, including the California Environmental Quality Act.
The declaration remains in effect until the Board of Supervisors terminates the crisis declaration.
Del Monte referenced Chico, Santa Barbara and Santa Rosa as other locales that enacted a shelter crisis declaration to expedite the process of acquiring local bed shelters.
Del Monte described how a navigation center would help unsheltered individuals exit homelessness.
“The navigation center will allow law enforcement to have tools to address unsheltered homeless, both from a destination standpoint, where homeless can go and find a bed that is available, and from the perspective of being able to legally enforce no-camping ordinances on public property if residents experiencing homelessness do not accept the available beds and surfaces,” Del Monte said.
The Ninth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals made a ruling in the 2018 Martin v. Boise case, where cities cannot enforce anti-camping ordinances if they do not have shelter beds available.
El Dorado County is one of four counties in California without year-round, low-barrier shelter beds available to the homeless population.
Programs would be funded completely through state and federal homeless grants, according to Del Monte.
District 2 Supervisor George Turnboo, who cast the only no vote, was unconvinced about using state and federal grants to fund these projects.
“I’m worried that if we accept this, (how) are we going to end up later down the road when the funding ends? (Will) we have to pull money just to support this?” Turnboo questioned.
Turnboo later in the meeting expressed further concerns regarding using grant funding.
“How do we know there are not any strings attached to this? What other things is the state going to require that we do?” Turnboo asked. “We need local control and I don’t think the state should tell us what we can or can’t do in our county. It is up to us to do the right thing for our county.”
District 5 Supervisor Sue Novasel said the same services projects proposed for Placerville would provide are working for the Tahoe Coalition for the Homeless. The coalition now operates three former hotels as shelters in South Lake Tahoe after getting a jump start with Project Roomkey.
“It’s been win-win for our homeless and for our community,” Novasel said. “What (the Tahoe Coalition) did with the site selections is they looked specifically for areas of blight with drugs and other issues and they turned those hotels around and made something that is controlled and good for the homeless.
“If we can find something like that for the community (in Placerville), that is a win-win,” Novasel continued.
Reception from community members who commented on the agenda item was mixed.
“The El Dorado County Board of Supervisors and other county departments (need) to expand much-needed services for the unhoused people in our county,” wrote El Dorado Hills resident Zoe McNevin. “This issue is not going to go away. Let’s take advantage of state and federal funding and proceed with plans for the navigation center/shelter hopefully before our fire season is upon us.”
Others were not in support of the resolution.
Cameron Park resident Terry Gherardi wrote in for public comment, stating that taxpayers’ money is being used for these grants with no results and urged county leaders to vote against the resolution.
“At this time with rising inflation, along with higher prices for gas, food, energy, etc., it is time that the state and federal government stop spending more taxpayer money, which only adds to higher inflation,” Gherardi said. “The last thing we need is to provide facilities that will only encourage and draw more homeless with their problems and more costs and problems to our business community and residents.”
The action the board took also directs the city of Placerville to coordinate with the Upper Room to consider relocating to one of the shorter-term shelters.
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